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Mass transit has a plan; will it have support?

The ride from Interstate 75 and State Road 56 to the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church on Leonard Road in Lutz entails six traffic lights along 7 miles of highway. Forget the posted speed limit of 50 mph. It's an 18-minute commute or the equivalent of traveling less than 24 mph.

In the afternoon drive time, that equates to six minutes of commercials and a traffic report amid four songs on the classic rock station, the finale of which is David Bowie singing Changes.

Not Barrack Obama-like change. That could be empowered as soon as Tuesday. No, these changes for which we're hoping are about travel and they won't be coming in two days.

Contractors are adding lanes to State Roads 56 and 54 in conjunction with the planned opening next year of the stalled Cypress Creek Mall. But, the real change in how we get from here to there is years, if not decades, away. And you wonder if the public is noticing.

This church in Lutz will be abuzz in 48 hours. It is the largest precinct in Pasco County with 8,138 people registered to vote there. Not so much buzz five days ago. With the voting machines stacked along the walls, the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA) rolled out the third phase of its master plan to move people in and around seven counties stretching from Citrus to Sarasota. TBARTA repeated the scene a night later at the Jerome Brown Community Center in Brooksville.

Sparse attendance was attributed to cool weather, the Rays, early voting, you name it.

Too bad. TBARTA previewed three versions of the transportation networks that could use rail, express buses and managed lanes of traffic to ease the crunch of highway travel. All three plans include rail service from the Wiregrass area of Wesley Chapel to points south. A final version, perhaps a combination of the three, is expected next year. For details and to comment go to by Nov. 21. Here are the highlights:

• The regional emphasis network to major destinations includes trains running every 20 to 30 minutes along the CSX rail line from Brooksville through central Pasco and ending in South Tampa. It features east-west buses running every 15 to 30 minutes along State Road 54 from U.S. 19 to Zephyrhills and a short-distance rail running every 20 minutes from Wiregrass to other rail connections in Carrollwood.

• The planning emphasis network of frequent service in highly congested areas excludes rail service in Hernando, but relies on express buses running every quarter- to half-hour at peak times from Crystal River, along the Suncoast Parkway, to a rail stop in Carrollwood. The east-west buses in Pasco end in Wesley Chapel instead of extending to Zephyrhills and the short-distance rail from Wiregrass runs to the USF campus and downtown Tampa.

• The so-called funding and financing network is intended to leverage public and private money by exploiting toll roads. It has only 49 miles of short distance rail and depends more heavily on express buses driving on managed lanes. It has buses running on both the Suncoast Parkway and Interstate 75 with a connector in Hernando along State Road 50 from Ridge Manor West to Spring Hill and in Pasco along both SR 54 and SR 56.

The financing for all three remains undetermined. In Denver, a voter-approved regional sales tax built a 12-mile light rail system. Express lanes on highways elsewhere bring as much as $2.65 per vehicle during peak times. And in Charlotte, increased development around the rail stations brought higher property values the revenue from which helps operate the system.

One of the few people attending the central Pasco session was Realtor Mary Ann Architetto-Carroll. She lives and works in Connerton, but for years she drove daily from Pinellas to her job at IBM near the former Tampa Stadium. She worries about the region mirroring the sprawl of Atlanta and of the future transportation needs of the aging baby boomers.

"The partnerships and the pooling is critical,'' she said, "You can't have all these cars on the road with only one person in them.''

It's thinking shared by Hernando County Realtor Rosemary Atkins. She liked the regional emphasis plan that makes use of the CSX rail line and advocates park and ride lots. The plan, she said via e-mail "is important to a rural county. Drive-till-you-can-buy is going to keep us dependant on foreign resources.''

Michael Audino, a business and transportation consultant, avoids a commute, working most days from his home in the Grand Oaks subdivision in central Pasco. He looked at the easels and posters containing the many colored squiggly lines and knew it was a lot for the general public to digest.

And then he spoke aloud of the ability to stomach the missing ingredient.

"What is the level of financial commitment that we're willing to make to make meaningful changes in our transportation network?'' he asked rhetorically. "It all requires financial resources and that comes from you and me.''

C.T. Bowen can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6239.

Mass transit has a plan; will it have support? 11/01/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 7, 2008 12:19pm]
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